It is most interesting to observe the rise of social media out of the ashes of human tragedy. The outpourings that have followed major calamities speak to the strong social component of social media. I think of it in three steps, to date that is…
First, there was #sandiegofire for the forest fire in San Diego in October 2007, when the hashtag was born on Twitter. With this first hashtag, Twitter started to galvanize attention around a singular event or issue.
Secondly, in mid 2009, there was Iran with the Green Revolution. You had on-site Twitter reporting (#iranelection among others) and Facebook Groups (
100 million people 275,000 people on Facebook!), with the creation of sites like the Green Wall (10,000 strong). With the Green Revolution movement, there was no doubt that Twitter was made a headline MSM newsworthy affair. The “what are you doing now?” question had a sense of real urgency, both real (human) and urgent (legitimate and newsworthy). And, according to the Huffington Post, the Green Revolution is gaining traction…helped in part, I do not doubt, by the continuing internet buzz.
Now, we have had the Haiti disaster. And the social media machine has been thrown into the fray again, with mainstream news journalists reporting on the use of social media, not just the unfolding human drama. Again, social media is putting the social into focus. This time, the cause is bringing not just a stampede of Twitterings and Facebook pages, but also concrete help in the form of millions of dollars of aid. On Twitter, there is #Haiti which is registering between 5% and 8% of all hashtags since the earthquake. On Facebook, there are now — between the four Haiti groups — over 1.5 million “members” with over 1 million members on “Every person that joins we will donate $1 to Haiti”. Unfortunately, this latter group does not identify who the “we” is… so it is presumably just some miserable scam. Another Facebook group “Earthquake Haiti” (with over 185,000 members) is designed to help locate missing people and reunite families. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross (which now has 50K followers on Twitter) has reported that, thanks to the social media / digital support, it has raised some $10 million in aid for Haiti, just four days after the event. The American Red Cross allows anyone in the US to text HAITI to 90999 as an easy way to donate $10 to the recovery effort. The money is billed to your mobile phone account. Naturally, the celebrities who have garnered a strong social media following and are discussing Haiti have helped bring the media pitch up and out to a wider swath. Lance Armstrong, for example, with some 2.5 million followers on Twitter, pledged a quarter million dollars in Haitian relief to two different associations.
The use of technology and the internet in the Haiti disaster has been both widespread and innovative. I think of Apple’s iTunes app (“donate to Haiti“) which allows people to make donations with its easy-as-pie pay scheme. Google has ramped up its google maps (and donated $1 million) to help geolocalisation for the relief efforts. As reported on the AFP, a number of sites such as FamilyLinks and haitianquake were posting pictures and messages to help reunite families. Google is also offering a “person finder” at HaitiCrisis.appspot.com.
All in all, the social media platforms have clearly managed to bring speed (real time) and globality (new word) to an unfolding crisis. Perhaps, Haiti, which ranks as about the 25th poorest country in the world, will come out of this tragedy with some lingering benefits on the worldmap.